Tag Archives: Paddling Tate’s Hell State Forest

Paddling to Loop Camp landing, Crooked River, Tate’s Hell – 3-18-2015

The afternoon Florida freshwater turtles presentation at the Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve was not until 2pm, so we knew we had time for a short paddle from Womack Creek Campground landing on the Ocklockonee River  to Loop Campsite landing on the Crooked River.  We had camped overnight at the Womack Creek Campground and paddled Womack Creek the day before.

At 8;35 AM, we have never paddled the Ocklocknee River when it was so calm.  For three miles on this beautiful blue-sky day, a tinge of coolness, but no wind.  Quiet.  Along the eastern bank of the Ocklockonee, the residents were not outside or were at work. We had the whole river to ourselves.

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We passed the rest house at the Womack Creek campground where Mack recently repainted the sign, so passing boaters could see that this was a public campground.

Wild olive or Devilwood were blooming along the way, along with pinxter azaleas and blackberry.

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At a bend in the Ocklockonee are pilings, remnants of a railway which carried turpentine across the river.  On river right of the Ocklockonee is McIntyre Landing.   The Crooked River is at this junction and continues west (crookedly) until it joins with the New River into the Carrabelle River.   This river has tidal flow from both ends.

At the mouth of the Crooked River is a little island.  This houseboat has been mired on its banks for at least 4 years.

The photo above shows how calm upriver Ocklockonee was from this junction.

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This photo shows the Crooked River at the junction.  The tide was going out, but without wind and with still a crispness in the air, it was an easy paddle to Loop camp site.

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We’ve heard more cardinals in Tate’s Hell recently.

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A mile from the Ocklockonee, Loop camp site appears.   It is one of our favorite places to camp.   Last year while one of us was preparing dinner, the other, sipping tea, saw a big otter pop its head from the exposed roots in the water of a pine tree and quickly swim away.  When the Ocklockonee floods, this campsite can be covered with water.

P1130444Lots of room for tents, an RV or a trailer and lots of room for kids to play.

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And a nice launching area.   When camping here, remember that paddlers who want to use the landing do have a right to do so and also to park their cars along the road.  There is more than enough space in this and other single primitive campsite in Tate’s Hell for several tents.  The rule applies to all Tate’s Hell Campsites:  on the New, on Crooked River, on Ocklockonee River.

On the way out, we received a beautiful farewell.

P1130447Titi are blooming everywhere in Tate’s Hell and beekeepers and bees are busy.

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Womack Creek in bloom — see and smell the Pinxter Azaleas now and for the next 3 weeks!

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St. Patrick’s day, at 11:30 pm. It was perfect paddling weather — in the low 70’s.  There was a slight breeze which rippled the surface of the Ocklockonee River, but  the trees, even with the early leaves,  protected Womack Creek.   The colors were spring — shades of light green, tinges of red with a few red maples still asserting its shiny red colors — a continuum of hue.  The bays with their darker, mature leaves added a depth to the colors of the scene.

The woodpeckers were pecking, the ubiquitous kingfisher darted upstream and then down, the resident hawk could be heard and was seen, a great blue,  which now seems a regular in that creek, and both barred owls’ dueling duets and great horned owl sounds at dusk and in the early morning.

Walters viburnum is still in full bloom, but will not be so within a week of 70 degree weather, but the swamp dogwoods will be blooming soon and swamp sweetbells soon after.  The blackberries are now in bloom and are the parsley haws.   Ogeche tupelos are just beginning to start their leaf buds.

The swamp is alive with the sound and activity of life — carpenter bees and honey bees sipping nectar from the pinxter azaleas, nymphs hatching out, dragonflies and both the swallowtail butterflies flitting from flower to flower.

Young alligators — the creek may be a nursery — are never cautious.  One cruised along my kayak, unafraid.  And a young brown water snake, less than a yard long, was out sunning, totally camouflaged against the brown/black branch.   And even young cooters, some no larger than 5 inches,  were perched on logs.

We camped there overnight to save a trip the next day to Eastpoint’s Apalachicola National Estuarine Research Reserve where we were looking forward to a talk on Florida’s freshwater turtles.

Two years ago, on this same week (Spring Break for Leon County Schools), we had met a father and his two sons and their guests here.   We did not camp last year during the spring break (we had taken two mothers and their four children to camp at Nick’s Road Primitive Camp site, which was reported on in an earlier blog).   We did not recognize the older son, he is now a freshman at Leon High School, but he nudged our memory.

This dad has taken his sons to camp and boat and canoe, fishing and hiking and just enjoying the Panhandle’s out of doors from the time they were very young.

The young man related to me that he went camping with some friends overnight and he brought along a Coleman stove, water and some food.  His friends made fun of him with all the gear he had, but they helped tote all that gear 2 miles to the camp site.   In the morning, he got up, and had prepared for them when they got up coffee and spam and other goodies!  Were they happy that he had some camping skills and to know that water and food are essential and he knew how to cook the food.

Mack, a host to end all hosts, had at our campfire a load of firewood and fatwood to start the fire.  The bathrooms were immaculate and freshly painted!   The picnic table was pressured washed clean and the fire pit was clean and ready to start.

The day before a couple from Alaska had camped.  There seem to be more out of town campers than in state.  What a shame — for a north Florida experience without being packed between RV’s and trailers, this is one of our favorite places.

The day we broke camp, Paddle Florida, which we had joined last February to paddle 5 days on the Withlacoochee, arrived with 40 paddlers.  Unlike last year, when every day but one was a rain day, and that brought a blustery winds which make doing Ochlockonee Bay treacherous, this year’s group will have perfect paddling weather.

We checked the New River — it is very low.  We were hoping to camp at Campsite 7 next week and paddle upstream, but it does not look promising.   When it is low there are too many big trees which have fallen over the river to paddle.  When the river is high, one merely paddles over them.   A federal forester, now retired, told us that when the deciduous trees start leafing on the New River, they guzzle up water like marathoners and paddling will require portaging and dragging.

The next day we paddled from the Womack Creek Campground on the Ochlockonee to Crooked River, all bounded by Tate’s Hell land on one side, to Loop Landing campground.  This, too, is another isolated campground which we like to camp — right on the Crooked River.  It’s a 4 mile paddle.  We started out at 8:35 a.m. and never have we paddled the Ochlockonee when it was so calm.  Pinxters are blooming there also as are Devil wood with its white blossoms and blackberries.

We paddled to McIntyre landing on the Ocklockonee which is at one end of the Crooked River.  The posts which once supported a train track on which trains hauled turpentine from one side of the river to the other are still there.   Crooked River connects to the New on the west and is subject to tidal flow from both the Carrabelle River and the Ocklockonee River.  We were against the tide that early in the morning, but it was a short paddle and the sky was blue, the air sweet and crisp  and spring in the air.

We had parked our car and trailer at Loop Landing, which is only 2 miles from Womack Creek Campground — one could walk to get one’s car if one is camped at Womack.

Go paddle Womack now and throughout April — the creek is blooming and there will be a succession of blooms from now on.

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The splash from a little turtle’s jump.

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Parsley haw blossoms.

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Nick’s Road landing — always a great place for lunch on Womack Creek.  Picnic bench, grill and fire pit.   Also a great place to camp — away from it all (from April through September, bring mosquito repellent).

P1130378New River at Camp Site 7 — very low for March.

 

 

Valentine’s Day Paddle, Womack Creek and all its branches, blue sky, crisp day — what more could we ask for.

The day was glorious, though cool, wind from the north with some chop on the Ocklockonee, but once within Womack Creek, the water calmed.

P1120511We were looking forward to seeing more buds on Womack Creek.  But it is mid-February — it was a hope.

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At the first cove on RR, a single golden club plant with one bloom stalk and two others still nestled in its leaves.

P1120519We didn’t expect the pumpkin ash buds, still tight, but promising blooms in two weeks.

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And in the first mile upstream, in a secluded, but sunny spot pinxter azaleas were blooming.  The first of the season and an early bell weather.  The other pinxster buds are still tightly closed, waiting for more consistent spring weather.   This was a Valentine’s Day gift!

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Not to take these little blossoms for granted, they were already in bud when we last paddled Womack Creek.  Now throughout the whole creek and all of its branches, the Walter’s Viburnum blooms are opening up.   The earliest of spring flowers in the North Florida wetlands.

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And the hornbeam trees were full of blossoms.

P1120527Alders putting out their leaves.   As the regular rain cycle has resumed, these alders have taken over many areas previously taken by False Indigo and Azaleas.

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And sweetgum leaves will be bursting out soon.

And bald cypresses are now in flower.

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P1120562The Florida red maples are starting to develop seeds.   On Womack creek it seems many of the maples are either male or female trees, although maple trees can have both male and female flowers on a single tree.

And the deadly water hemlock starting with new growth.

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Insect cases, one case already emptied, the other still incubating.

We decided to explore all the branches of Womack creek.  About 2.5 miles from put-in on RL is a branch as wide as the main channel which flows past Nick’s Road Primitive Campsite.  We took this branch first — we had not been on it for a year. It narrowed after about 1 mile and ended as do all these branches into a tangle of mud, branches, trunks — an impenetrable and not navigable dead end.

Exploration in the branches of rivers in north Florida requires saw and clipper.   Downed trees  block further clear navigation, forcing a portage in muck, branches either overhanging or dead can be cut through, strainers (collections of branches in the water like a dam) can be loosened and opened up.  Some trees do not fall directly into the water and allow, depending on water level, for limbo paddling — one gets pretty good at what we call the “turtle scrunch” — receding into one’s cockpit with as much of one’s body and head close to the height of the deck to get under low trunks.   In slow moving waters this is easy; in fast moving waters failure to coordinate and place one’s kayak properly can result in a capsize.

With limbo logs, one has to note,  where the creek or river is tidally influenced, whether one is going upstream in high or low tide.  If one barely makes it under a log on an outgoing tide,  on return in an incoming tide plan B will need to be pursued.   We learned this on Trout Creek, a small tributary of the New River, which drains from the Dwarf Cypress swamp.  We were on one of our exploration trips which required, as usual, cutting through a path up river and found ourselves in an incoming tide on the way back.  The space was barely enough for the kayaks, sans paddlers.

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And beyond that, more obstacles.

P1120570A lot of situations like this.

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Often ending like this, slough 1 or slough 2.

From put-in to Nick’s Road Primitive Camp Site which is a sunny spot with a picnic table, a fire ring and a grill, is 3.75 miles.  This is a good place to have lunch.

But upstream, there are two branches, each of which have increased in navigability in the last 3 years which were wetter than the previous 4-5 years.  We were able to get up to the furtherest point we have ever paddle on the branch on RL (about 1.2 miles) and got much further up the second branch on RR than we have ever been before.

These creek  branches were equally as challenging as the first branch, but we were amply rewarded:   an otter, a white tail deer, a pair of barred owls, a hawk in this section.   And we were 1.2 miles from hway 67, where Womack Creek crosses to the northwest before we had to stop. This is the closest we have ever been to hway 67 on the creek.

Here are the photos:

P1120584 One has to be willing to hope for the best.

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But it wouldn’t hurt to test the depth of the water occasionally.

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A sharp saw a necessity when one decided to explore small branches.

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There’s always that last barrier one is willing to cross.

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Nothing convinces more than a series of obstacles in close proximity that its time to turn around and go downriver to take-out.

Today’s paddle was 11 miles.  Our normal paddles on Womack Creek runs from 7.5-8.5 miles, upstream and downstream.

We put in at a temperature of 56 F and took out at 60 F.  The winds had picked up, the tide had turned, and we were ravenous.

The sky remained cloudless, the air crisp — in the protected waters of Womack Creek the 10-12 mph winds were not felt.  A bit of chop leaving Womack into the Ocklockonee, but it was a short paddle to the take-out.

What did you do on St. Valentine’s Day?

I

Cash Creek, Tate’s Hell State Forest – February paddling at its best!

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It was a beautiful day to be out on the marsh, the swamp and the forests — all these habitats in one creek system, including an old drainage ditch dug by a the previously plantation operators.

Contrails in the sky, patterns of marsh rushes at eye-level, and below in the tannic waters patterns in the sand and muck.

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When the marsh leads into the swamp, occasional pines change to cypresses.

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An osprey was about, the first two paddlers saw it catch a fish, but nothing was stirring in the nest.  Perhaps later….ospreys return to their nests every year.

 

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Before entering the swamp, in the reeds, a green frog, trying hard to remained camouflaged.

 

 

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The two paddlers in front saw an otter in two different parts of the creek — sleek, fat ones.

 

P1120298Migratory birds still have not found the yaupon or the dahoon berries, ripe and ready to eat.

But there was a kingfisher, a prothotonary warbler in the underbush and sounds of other birds in the marsh and the shrubs, not the noisy cocaphony of crows in the late fall.  A lone buzzard glided gracefully in the air drafts above the marsh and swamps.  Buzzards keep the land clean of rotting carcasses — we are thankful that they are around as housekeepers of the forest.

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This is bear food, the still green fruit of the laurel greenbrier and palmetto berries, still untouched.

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But spring is here — the Florida maples are like daffodils and crocuses in the north!

 

 

 

 

And wax myrtles — ready to bloom.

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And titi already blooming.  But the bees have not seen them, although the scent is already perceptible.

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Into the old tree plantation canal — obvious because it is straight — the bridge marks the end of navigability.

Back to the put-in at the Cash Creek Day Use and Picnic ground, off Highway 65.

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The play of contrails, ending a cool, but sunny day of paddling — 10 miles up three branches.

Only one other fishing kayak at take-out — he had gone downriver into the estuary.  We four kayakers had the whole creek to ourselves!

 

 

Womack Creek – overcast skies, but warming…go paddle! GRASI Tactical Area 3

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A cloudy day, 58 degrees at put-in, but no breeze — Ochlockonee River running high.  This is where Womack Creek meets the Ochlockonee on the east side of Tate’s Hell.

We put-in at the Womack Creek campground.  There were no campers, but the hosts were home — Mack and Lee are doing a marvelous job of maintaining this and other east-side campsites in Tate’s Hell.

In mid-January, after three nights of freezing temperatures, we were not expecting flowers.  But there it was, at the entrance — a brilliant display of Florida maple in bloom.

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And soon after and thereafter, upriver, high bush blueberries, promising fruit in late May and June.  Surprisingly without insects, but bees shall soon be gathering nectar when it warms.

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The alder catkins were not unexpected — we see them in late winter.   Their seeds still remain on the branches.  The subleties of hue and shape which nature gifts us on this river cannot be overestimated.

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But there were remnants, too, of last summer and last fall.  A pair of hornet’s nest and the furry seeds of silvering which bloom in late fall.

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With no breeze to speak of and the tide at turning point, it was a calm paddle up and back.

We were again surprised to see a single spray of Green Fly orchid.  Our written sources had noted that they bloom in January to March, but after years of diligent searching from  January through March, we saw a profusion in bloom last May!  Last December two sprays were blooming.   These are lovely elfin flowers — we have not GPS’ed them on our Womack Creek blog http://www.womackcreek.wordpress.com  (our Master Naturalist project, “A
Paddler’s Guide to the Flowering Plants of Womack Creek”) because we were told that plant collectors can be avaricious and will harvest them if they know where to look.  There are more plants in other locations in Tate’s Hell, but we have never seen them in bloom.

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Too cold for alligators and even turtles,  but there were 3 female cardinals, a gold finch, the always present kingfisher, a cormorant, a buzzard, a woodpecker, a thrasher and a flock of unidentified gray birds.   No insects, either.

While eating our lunch of jerky, crackers, kumquats and for dessert a Perugina chocolate-hazelnut “kiss” each at Nick’s Primitive Campsite, the clouds parted to give us  sun. We had the warm blessing of the sun on the paddle back to the Womack Creek Campground.

A lovely 7.7 mile round trip paddle.

Holiday berries for a December paddle – Womack Creek, GRASI Tactical Area 3, Tate’s Hell

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Dahoon Holly berries – Womack Creek – December 7, 2014.

All three types of hollies on Womack Creek are red with berries: Yaupon, Dahoon and American holly.   By end of winter, the migrating birds will have eaten them — fair trade for the color and liveliness they add.  A pair of warblers are already on Womack Creek.

P1110602The greatest surprise, however, was a spray of blooming green fly orchids.  These were in bloom in late spring and we were not expecting a spray in bloom this late into the year.  The creek always has a surprise for us and today we were not disappointed.

P1110563This is how the day started out — 62 F — blue skies, slight breeze.  P1110580

 

 

 

 

 

No insects, no butterflies, very little stirring such that a drop of a leaf catches our eye.  Most of the leaves have been stripped from the deciduous trees, but there are still some red and yellow leaves clinging to their vines or branches.  P1110571 While Simmon’s asters are all in bloom, the climbing lavender asters are almost gone.  These few blooms, nestled against the toxic water hemlock plant, are the last of those vibrant fall flowers.

P1110576  A few turtles were getting as much sun as they could — more large ones than small.  We saw no alligators today.  But there were buzzards, a pair of warblers, an anhinga, the sound of a woodpecker, a couple of ducks and at the entrance to the creek a grebe, the first we have seen on this creek.

 

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The cypress are losing their leaves; oak leaves are turning.  And there are signs of the next season, already.

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An egg sac, winterized and ready for early spring’s warm sunshine, even while this fall’s leaf still hangs on a bare-leafed tree.

 

 

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And next March’s azalea blooms already being packaged.

 

 

 

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This creek keeps on giving — and it leaves the year in a glorious display of red and green!

Happy Holidays!

Sunday morning meditation – on Womack Creek, Tactical Area 3

November 2, 2014.

Blue sky, temperature in the mid-50’s at 10 am, but feeling like mid-40’s.  A bite in the breeze.  No one on the Ochlockonee River as we put-in heading up to Womack Creek.   We were layered; the PFD no longer was enough to warm our torsos.

Once into the main body of Womack, the water calmed — Womack Creek is usually protected from winds, or breezes.   At the confluence, a welcoming mass of vining asters and swamp sunflowers, welcoming the sun.  The tide was out when we put in. P1110254Low tide — looking at Ochlockonee River from Womack Creek.   Later, the tide will cover this muddy barrier (below).

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The asters are still in full bloom, with occasional clumps of swamp sunflowers — their seeds seem to fall in the same locations.   Blooming at the same time they combine to form lovely arrays, occasionally  with red-berried Dahoon, an even more striking display.

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This cold — we were not expecting turtles, and certainly not alligators.   But this little one — just a little longer than a yard stick had first dibs on this sun drenched log. P1110266 But these were only brief interruptions from the calmness of the creek, the trees and shrubs still with leaves, but beginning to prepare for winter.  An arena of change — for us, a chance to meditate on the gifts which nature endows a paddler who enters in quiet and absorbs with ears, eyes, nose to feel the totality of wildness.

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Come paddle and find peace and quiet and beauty.

An October Saturday Paddle – Cash Creek, Tate’s Hell

Come paddle Tate’s Hell — the cosmos, Florida’s state flower, is in full bloom –from put-in, view  a panorama of cosmos gold between sedges and pines.  Also see climbing asters, goldenrod, salt marsh morning glory, swamp lily, cardinal flower,  ratttlesnakemaster, vanillaleaf, dahoon and yaupon holly red berries — wasps, bumblebees, alligators (big ones), lots of sedges, rushes, gnarled cypresses,  long leaf pine — estuary and pinelands.  Gulf fritillary and sulphur butterflies — an October estuary ecosystem vibrant and alive!

The cooler days of October through April temper the sun’s rays.

Put in at Cash Creek Day Use boat launch, off SR 65, head upstream.  The branches will end — you should not get lost.

The first fork:   to the left is High Bluff Creek, to the right is the continuation of Cash Creek.  High Bluff Creek, as does Cash Creek, ends in a narrow swamp creek.

If you take the fork to the right (Cash Creek) and come across the next fork, the fork to the left is an old canal probably cut through pineland by the logging plantation, previous owners of Tate’s Hell lands.   It is straight and narrows to less than the length of most kayaks. Last December, we saw a mother bear and her cub (the cub on a pine tree, learning its climbing skills).   The mother bear quickly alerted her cub when she saw the us.  The cub’s instinct was to climb up the tree.  A sharp rebuke from its mother brought the cub scurrying down the tree and quickly into the palmetto.  A wild bear will avoid human contact; a bear habitualized to humans, e.g. garbage can or campground scavengers, may not.  Feeding wildlife habitualizes them.

(We had just broken camp at Wright Creek in the Apalachicola National Forest and had paddled Owl, Fort Gadsden and Graham creeks,  tributaries of the Apalachicola.  The night before we arrived there,  a camper saw a black bear near his campsite.  The camper shouted — loud noises are usually sufficient to warn off wild bears. This bear ruffed back and went into the woods.  The camp host reports such incidents to the forest service and an effort is made to capture the bear and relocate it away from established campsites. )

On the extension of Cash Creek,  the branch to the right continues into woody swamps and dead ends.

Easy paddling: some tidal influence.

Two portable toilets at put-in.  Bring your own toilet paper.  Covered concrete picnic pavilion with 3 tables.

There is no day use fee in Tate’s Hell, except for Womack Creek Campground which has flush toilets and showers — $2 there.  (A good place to shower, if traveling through).

Photos taken on Saturday, October 25, 2014

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View from put-in. Between the sedges and pines is a huge field of cosmos. Reminded us of that shot in the movie Color Purple where the child is seen romping through pink and lavender cosmos.

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Golden Rod

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A small island of cosmos.

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Paddling in an area where estuary meets the swamp environment — it gives you two experiences.  We think Cash Creek would make for a beautiful full moon paddle, up to the first fork (a little over a mile from put-in). After that there are snags which might not be readily seen in the dark.

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Golden rod and cosmos growing from a spot of soil on a snag in the water.

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Gulf frittillary on cosmos with rattlesnake master cluster in foreground.

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Osprey nest. In the spring the pair of osprey will return to begin a new generation.

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Cardinal flower – attracts insects.

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Cosmos – Florida state flower

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Salt Marsh Morning glory

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Salt marsh morning glory seed pods.

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Swamp lily.

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Dahoon holly berries — feast for migrating birds.

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Vining aster – common fall flower in Tate’s Hell.

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Vanillaleaf

Memorial Day Sunday on Womack Creek, Tate’s Hell State Forest

While big brother was lounging on a log, his littler siblings just born this year were curiously exploring the watery environment, some dangerously curious.

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One yearling, curiousity over caution, surfaced to check the third kayak to see what manner of creature it was.

For the first time since we’ve been paddling Womack Creek  (2011), we saw these egg cases, what we believe are apple snail cases.  The first photo shows a spider on one of the alder branches — do spiders eat the eggs or the young as they hatch?

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Going up the creek, the largest barred owl we have ever seen was perched on a branch, looking down.   Returning, it was still there, but this time its mate, a bit smaller, was in the trees across the creek.

25-P1080921Still blooming: swamp roses, sweet bay, swamp bay (persea), clematis crispa and green fly orchids.

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Sweet Bay

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Swamp Bay (persea)

 

 

 

 

 

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Green Fly orchid

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In a week the whole creek will be abloom with swamp titi and arrowwood.

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Swamp titi

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Arrowwood

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And on the way to the blackberries, now ripening, narrow leaf primrose stands.

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Summer is here on Womack Creek.

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(One warning:  yellow flies are out at the landings and on the upper third of the creek which is narrow.  I think a bit of baking soda and water will prevent the bites from welting (a old fashioned remedy for bee stings) — bring a snak bag of baking soda just in case.